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UNHCR: Iran Should Open Border to Afghan Refugees


The head of the United Nations refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers, has called on Iran to open its border to refugees from neighboring Afghanistan.

Ruud Lubbers first went to Pakistan then to Tehran. Speaking with reporters in the Iranian capital Wednesday , Mr. Lubbers said his message in both countries was the same, namely to urge them to open their borders to Afghan refugees.

"Both in Pakistan and Iran, I said it's clear your policy is that the border is closed; our opinion is that it should be opened," said Lubbers. "So, let's agree that we disagree and from there see what we can do in a practical way for human beings."

Iran, which is already home to about two million Afghan refugees, closed its border with Afghanistan shortly before U.S. airstrikes began in the hope of avoiding a new influx.

Iran has set up some camps for the refugees close to its border, but inside Afghanistan. Mr. Lubbers says the United Nations believes these camps are not secure enough to house more refugees.

Efforts are now underway to choose locations in the no-man's land along Iran's border as potential campsites and to allow some of the neediest refugees, such as the sick and orphans, into Iran for help.

Mr. Lubbers sounded a note of caution for any Afghan refugee thinking of heading into Iran. "I would say think twice before you go to Iran," he said. "Think twice if there are no alternatives where you can get assistance to return to where you come from. If you see any possibility to survive, don't come. If, however, you are traumatized because you have recently been bombed, just lost a few of your relatives and family, you may chance to come into Iran. Come report to UNHCR at the border and we will do our utmost."

Mr. Lubbers said that while that advice may not help everyone, it does reflect reality.

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